Marvel star works magic in director Sam Raimi’s Marvel of horror

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Over the past six years, Benedict Cumberbatch has played Doctor Strange across six different Marvel movies and one animated series. And if he gets his way from him, he’ll continue to don the red Cloak of Levitation for another decade.

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“If they keep him evolving, I think there’s a lot of places for him to explore. So yeah, bring it on,” Cumberbatch says in a virtual chat.

After appearing in December’s global box office smash Spider-Man: No Way HomeCumberbatch, 45, returns as Marvel’s ex-Sorcerer Supreme in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (in theaters today), a sequel to Scott Derrickson’s 2016 film that ushered the character, first created by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee in the 1960s, into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Directed by Sam Raimi, who helmed the original Tobey Maguire spider-man trilogy in the 2000s, the new adventure finds Strange dealing with the effects of the multiverse after a simple spell for Peter Parker (Tom Holland) opened the door to a multitude of past Spider-Man villains and heroes (including Maguire and Andrew Garfield) in No Way Home.

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After righting everything in Spider-Man’s world, the somewhat smug Strange dives back into a new adventure, alongside Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff, also known as the Scarlet Witch. The movie also introduces a new superhero America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who enters the fray with her powers that allow her to cross between different worlds in the multiverse. Several other Marvel comic book characters will also make an appearance paving the way for future movie storylines.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange in Marvel Studios' DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange in Marvel Studios’ DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Photo by Marvel Studios

Cumberbatch maintains that Strange’s supercosmic heart was in the right place when he cast a spell to help Parker, even if his multiversal actions will have a rippling effect across the MCU.

“I think you saw in No Way Home a very human dilemma. Everyone criticizes Strange as being terrible at his job, well, not everyone but some fans. But he did so not only in the service of a foot soldier, but a teenager who is having a real struggle in his formative years.”

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Away from his work in the MCU, Cumberbatch has dipped his acting toe in lots of waters, recently earning an Oscar nod for playing a sneering cowboy in Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog. Through his production company SunnyMarch he has taken on a variety of smaller roles in films like The Couriera Cold War spy movie that was released last year, and the Guantanamo drama The Mauritanian.

“I want to continue to keep the variety fresh and inventive,” Cumberbatch says.

But before he embarks on his next act, which includes more adventures with Strange as Marvel boss Kevin Feige plots out its next decade, Cumberbatch’s role will involve spending a little more time at home.

“I’m going to have a break,” he chuckles.

In a recent conversation with the SunCumberbatch spoke more about playing Marvel’s most mystical character and making the studios’ scariest movie yet.

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Why was the multiverse the logical next place to take Doctor Strange?

Because he’s a sorcerer and even though he seems to be omnipotent, he needs to learn that perhaps he isn’t and he needs to be taught — perhaps by meeting other variants of himself that certain choices can lead to calamitous outcomes and maybe he’d be better off — instead of trying to control everything — working together with others.

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I think the journey that Strange goes on is literary in its ambition. How is he different after the events of Avengers: Endgame and No Way Home?

I feel like we learn more about him and what motivated him to become a surgeon in his previous existence. As a sorcerer we’ve seen him grow in strength in the MCU, but we’ve never really dug into that and seen what the frailties and cracks are in his character and what his brokenness is. This (film) exposes that and stress tests it and gets us to a place where he has to reform, he has to change the way he’s doing things. Even though he’s doing things for the greater good now — and doing it very well — he’s starting to let his ego take over… In No Way Home (Peter) doesn’t have a mentor anymore and he tried to take on that mantle and failed spectacularly. But I think it came from a good place. There’s an extension of that in this film in many ways. We learn more about his heart from him and what makes him tick and what motivates him. The things that not only make him a great surgeon, but a great sorcerer, and all of that gets severely challenged this time.

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Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange in SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME.
Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange in SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME. Photo by Matt Kennedy /sony pictures

How does the villain in Multiverse of Madness compare to Thanos?

(Pauses) That would be telling.

You can tease us a little bit.

I think I just did.

I can’t seem to ever get anything out of you.

(Laughs) I’ve told you many things without telling you anything.

What’s been the biggest appeal of playing Strange?

It’s the complexity of his character. I love his humor about him and his sardonic and snarky nature and his arrogance about him, but also how, even though he’s someone who is anarchic and acting outside the playbook, he’s someone who is pliable. He does change and he is able to evolve and that keeps him and me interested and interesting. I think he’s got great potential and we’re just revealing layer after layer with these adventures he goes on. There’s also a crazy look, which I didn’t think we’d pull off when we first started testing it, but it seems to have caught on and I’m kind of comfortable with — that was one of the fun bits of playing variants of him. But yeah, I think it’s a rich old palette to work with, it really is. You’ve got an amazing amount of epic adventure and big screen entertainment that he draws in visually… You want to go on an adventure with him. He’s not easy, but he’s human.

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Benedict Cumberbatch poses for a photo during a photocall for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, in Trafalgar Square, London, Tuesday April 26, 2022.
Benedict Cumberbatch poses for a photo during a photocall for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, in Trafalgar Square, London, Tuesday April 26, 2022. Photo by Ian West /Associated Press

What was it like leaning into some of the horror elements this film explores?

Great fun. Especially with someone like Sam. He’s someone who comes from that background and he’s brought that into the superhero genre and he’s mastered both. I felt like I was in very safe hands when it came to working with him and I think fans of Sam Raimi are going to be very pleased. He really brings to life a lot of horror elements and darker elements of this story… this is the most scary of the Marvel films to date for sure.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange in Marvel Studios' DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange in Marvel Studios’ DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Photo by Marvel Studios

We’ve seen how some fans want to spoil some of the film’s surprises. What do you think of spoiler culture?

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I look away because I don’t want to be spoiled. I like sitting in the audience and experiencing something for the first time. I’m certainly not on the phone with Kevin (Feige) or Taika (Waititi) to ask what happens in the next Thor movie. We create a lot of expectation and excitement around these films, so of course people want to know more before they start. But I’m fine keeping my mouth shut and talking about things in a weird way like we do on these press junkets in order to facilitate that experience for the fans.

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(LR): Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez, Benedict Wong as Wong, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange in Marvel Studios' DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS.
(LR): Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez, Benedict Wong as Wong, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange in Marvel Studios’ DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Photo by Marvel Studios

We spoke a year ago and since then you’ve had an incredible run with The Power of the Dog, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain and now stranger. What do you hope to do going forward?

It’s been an amazing few years and an amazing last year in particular. I want to focus on the kind of people I want to work with as well as the types of characters I want to play. Those are equally important. I found, especially with Jane (Campion), where I got the golden ticket of both a very complex character and working with her, that I got to evolve my art. I got to evolve my craft and find a new love for it. That’s what I want moving forward. I want to keep learning as an artist and I want to keep getting better as an actor

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is in theaters now.

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